CHA Reflections

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Canadian Historical Association (CHA) annual meeting held at Ryerson in Toronto, Ontario.  This is the first time I have had been back to CHA in six or more years and I happy to say it was a worth while experience. Though I’m still a die hard NCPH fan I can see that CHA has it’s place and value, especially to those practicing history within the academy.

CHA highlights for me included:

  • Meeting with Active History editorial collective and discussing the future of the Active History project.  The last time I saw many of the other editors was in 2015 at the Active History conference, so it was great to be able to connect in person.
  • The “Decolonize 1867: Stories from the People event” was a great way to start my CHA experience.  The session was organized by Stacy Nantion-Knapper and Kathryn Labelle and featured Catherine Tammaro, Brittany Luby, Naomi Recollet, Helen Knott, Jessie Thistle, and Carolyn Podruchny.  The session was conversational in nature and included presentations focused around visual art, poetry, and storytelling.  The words of the presenters invoked discussions of land, the ongoing impacts of colonialism, and a critical look at commemoration.  Helen Knott’s poem “Indigenous Diaspora: Out Of Place In Place” was a beautiful and thought provoking discussion of land, colonialism, and resilience. Similarly, Naomi Recollet’s presentation of the “Unceded” video showcased the varying views Indigenous communities have to land, legislation, and government relationships.
  • One of the panels I really enjoyed was the The Indian Act: A Contested Technique of Colonial Governance, 1876-Present panel.  This panel featured four presenters focusing on different aspects and interpretations of the Indian Act and the Act’s impact on Indigenous communities.  Many of the papers on this panel subverted the standard colonial narrative and were looking for Indigenous perspectives on the Indian Act – either through oral history, finding archival sources written by Indigenous leaders, or reading government documents against the grain. The panel featured: Chandra Murdoch, “Mobilization of and against Indian Act elections on Haudenosaunee Reserves, 1870-1924”; Anne Janhunen, “Government Responses to Indigenous Political Organizing and Legal Representation in Southern Ontario, 1903-1927”; “Genevieve R. Painter, “Cutting Costs and Constructing Canada: A History of Sex Discrimination in the Indian Act”; Jacqueline Briggs “#PolicyFail: How the Department of Indian Affairs negotiated the dissolution of the assimilation and management projects in the 1960s”
  • I also enjoyed the “Recovering Indigenous Law in Ore-Confederation Land Conveyances to the British Crown, 1764-1864” panel.  In particular, Jeffrey Hewitt’s discussion of “Wampum as Treaty Text” and the idea of looking beyond written text for historical information was something that resonated strongly with me.  Hewitt also discussed the need for settlers to develop literary beyond the written word – and the need to view wampum belts, songs, and dances as valid sources of information.
  • Another highlight for me was connecting with folks I only know online at CHA. It was great to see some archivists and public historians at the conference and so many inspiring women participating in the event.

Things I would like to see more of at CHA:

  • The roundtable format used at the social media panel and the public historians panel worked really well.  The format was conversational and included ample time for discussion.  I would love to see more sessions borrow from this model.
  • More creative based sessions such as the “Decolonize 1867” event which re-positioned historical narratives.
  • More community engaged scholars sharing their work – and community collaborators speaking alongside academics at CHA.  Community voices have value and we need to listen.  This is particularly important when talking about marginalized communities and needing to open up the space to make room for those voices.
  • There was one solid queer history panel but it would have been great to see more queer history throughout the program.
  • More people using Twitter.  At times I felt like the lone conference tweeter in the room.  To see the Twitter archive from the conference visit Unwritten Histories.